Thoughts already are turning to the fallHere it is barely summer and a lot of us are already looking ahead to what the fall hunting season might provide. While some prospects are risky to try to pin down just yet, spring weather conditions can give us some ideas about how various species have fared so far.
By: Doug Leier, N.D. Game and Fish
Here it is barely summer and a lot of us are already looking ahead to what the fall hunting season might provide. While some prospects are risky to try to pin down just yet, spring weather conditions can give us some ideas about how various species have fared so far.
Heading into spring, eastern North Dakota was about the only segment of the state not dealing with extremely dry conditions. While drought most obviously limits nesting conditions for waterfowl, lack of moisture also inhibits grass growth, which can mean less than ideal pheasant and grouse nesting habitat as well.
Deer on the other hand, are not affected as much by dry conditions in the short term, and following a relatively mild winter, the Game and Fish Department is offering a record number of licenses for this fall.
Weather is not the only factor at work here, however.
If you’ve read this column before, you’ve no doubt seen accounts of the shrinking number of Conservation Reserve Programs acres in North Dakota. On the surface, it still doesn’t seem people are paying much attention, but this loss of idled grassland, combined with other variables, will reduce wildlife populations across the Midwest.
Less CRP creates more competition for remaining nesting grounds and less area to cover for predators seeking bird nests like foxes, skunks and raccoons.
Until a few weeks ago, dry conditions would have meant fewer insects for young birds to eat, but recent rains have brought much of the state back to near-normal precipitation amounts. A few locales may even have concerns about too much rain, but as long as temperatures remain near normal through the peak hatching period, things should be OK.
In the short term, winter survival for pheasants and grouse was likely good, which means the potential is still there for a favorable fall. Who knows, maybe not as good as last year, but still well in line with what we’ve come to expect in the last decade or so.
Yes, even with a significant loss of CRP, we’re still better off in terms of grassland habitat than we were 25 years ago. We’ll just have to see how things progress in the long term. We may not see huge population swings every year, but over time, maximum capacity will definitely go down for most game species.
Game and Fish Department biologists recently tallied the spring breeding waterfowl survey. Wetland conditions across the state this year were well below average. Ducks were still numerous, but their breeding behavior was apparently held back by the lack of small wetlands with water.
In such times, ducks may simply move around the Prairie Pothole Region, but drought reduces North Dakota’s contribution to the Central Flyway migration. As the summer brood surveys come through in July, we’ll have a better handle on exactly where the fall flight stands. Based on what we know so far, local duck production may not be up to par with past years.
As we roll through summer, understand that one rain storm doesn’t pull us out of a drought or make up for years of below-average nesting conditions and diminishing habitat for ducks and pheasants. And despite some factors that aren’t as favorable as in the past, we still have reason to look forward to the fall of 2008.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: email@example.com. Read his blog daily at www.areavoices.com/dougleier